So you want to get sponsorship. Of course you do. What would be better than getting someone else to pay for your dreams? It’s amazing how many emails I get from sports people who imagine sponsors are just generous benefactors who will willingly part with hard-earned cash on the strength of a good idea.
In the business world, there is a similar behaviour. Entrepreneurs with great ideas seek out financiers, early stage investors, business angels, venture capitalists, sponsors. Some of these companies offer the investors a promise of revenue generation – a cash return on investment. Raising money for a venture that might lead to revenue is a hard sell, so imagine how hard it is to sell sponsorship benefits like exposure, brand association or recall.
Still want to give it a try? Your life is about to change. You are swapping the sails for sales. As Bud Fox’s Dad said in ‘Wall Street’:
You get on the phone and ask strangers for their money, right?
You’re a salesman.
So what can sailors learn from entrepreneurs? A lot. Here are some tips on raising money that apply equally to competitive sailors as to early stage businesses.
Have a Business Plan
This is not your sponsorship pitch or presentation, this is a document that shows how you are going to spend the money. Remember that the idea is only as good as the team who is going to deliver it, so the business plan needs to include the personnel and why they are the best people to invest in to deliver the goals.
Get Some Skin in the Game
If you want to start a business, be prepared to invest your own money. Sailors who expect sponsors to risk money in their venture, better throw something into the pot. Those who are not willing to assume such risk are not considered serious by sponsors, and will most likely not receive funding.
While some sponsors do read proposals that come over the transom, plans referred to them by a trusted source, such as a business associate, lawyer or accountant get far more attention. Attend events, not just boat shows and regattas, but trade shows for other industries. Use online tools like Linked-In.
Start Close to Home
People that know you are more likely to invest in you than a complete stranger. Talk to friends and family, talk to a business that you buy from often. If you have a day job, talk to the company that employs you. Of course use common sense – if you are planning a year long, round the world campaign, they might get a sense that you are not exactly commited to your job.
Do you Homework
Sailors should be choosy about who they take money from. Make certain that you really know your sponsor. Where are their markets? What are their products? Understand their motivation and expectations. Know what added value they can bring to the table. Sponsors with good connections can jump start a campaign and keep it thriving. Well-connected sponsors can even make it easier to get additional sponsors.
Show the Sponsor what they get in return.
It’s amazing how many people looking for sponsorship have never thought that a sponsorship deal is two way. The best sponsors only invest when they have a high certainty of the outcome. Successful sponsorship is about knowing what return you expect to make. Anything else is speculation and gambling. If you can show a decent return, in a reasonable period, to the sponsor then they’ll be more inclined to back you. If you can’t then they’ll take their money elsewhere.
When I get an email from someone I don’t know these days, I type their name into google or visit the web address associated with their email. You can get your own website for a couple of bucks. If you don’t want to create one from scratch, create a blog on blogger or a profile on Linked-In or a MySpace page.
If you’re not sure on any of these areas, then make sure you get some professional help. It’s a lot better to invest some time, effort and money up front to get the right approach than to waste many months and even more money learning the hard way. Think about what it costs you personally for each month that your business growth is inhibited. When you look at it this way, getting the right support at an early stage can save you a lot more time, money and effort in the long run. I’ll be writing a piece on how to find the right help in coming days.
You’ll notice that I have used the phrase ‘your business’ a lot in this article. If you don’t see your sailing as a business, then how can you expect a sponsor to give you money?